How to Fix the 'Original File Could Not Be Found' Error in iTunes

What to do when iTunes can't find a song on your computer

If you try to play a song in iTunes that has an exclamation point (!) next to it, iTunes displays the error message, "Original file could not be found." Some simple troubleshooting steps can fix this error, whether it appears for an individual song or multiple missing songs in your iTunes Library, and help prevent the error from happening again.

Instructions in this article apply to iTunes on macOS Mojave (10.14) or earlier and iTunes on Windows 10. Apple replaced iTunes with the Music app in macOS Catalina (10.15), but many of the steps here are the same.

iTunes files on a laptop with headphones
Pikrepo

Causes of the Missing Original File Error

An exclamation point appears next to a song when iTunes doesn't know where to find the MP3 or AAC file for that song. This situation occurs because songs aren't stored in the iTunes app. Instead, iTunes functions like a directory for the music files stored on a computer's hard drive. When you double-click a song, iTunes searches the place on the hard drive where it expects to find the file. If the music file isn't in the location the application expects, it can't play the song.

The most common causes of the error include a file that has been moved from its original location, a file that isn't stored in the Music folder, or a song file that has been deleted. Also, another media application may have moved the file without telling you.

The default locations for music files are:

  • In the Music app: Home/Music
  • In iTunes on Mac: Home/Music/iTunes/iTunes Media
  • In iTunes on Windows 10: Music/iTunes/iTunes Media

How to Fix the Error for a Single Missing Music File

If iTunes displays an exclamation point beside a single song in your iTunes Library, complete the following steps:

  1. In iTunes, double-click the song with the exclamation point next to it.

    Double-click the song with the exclamation point (!) next to it.
  2. In the dialog box that appears, select Locate.

    iTunes with the Locate button highlighted
  3. Locate the missing song on the local or external hard drive, select the file, then select Open.

    iTunes' Find Original window with the Open button highlighted
  4. If iTunes offers to use the same location to find other files that may be missing from your iTunes Library, select Find Files.

    iTunes with the Find Files button highlighted
  5. In the dialog box that appears, select OK.

    The OK button
  6. Select the song in iTunes to play it. The exclamation point should be gone.

    This method doesn't move the location of the music file. Instead, it updates where iTunes expects to find the file.

    Select the song in iTunes to play it.

 

How to Fix the Error for Multiple Missing Music Files (Local Hard Drive)

If there are exclamation marks next to many songs, finding each song individually could take a long time. Instead, you may be able to solve the problem by consolidating your iTunes Library. This feature of iTunes scans a hard drive for music files, and then automatically moves them to the correct location in your iTunes Music folder.

To consolidate your music in iTunes, complete the following steps:

  1. In iTunes, select File > Library > Organize Library.

    iTunes with the Organize Library command highlighted
  2. In Organize Library, select the Consolidate files check box, and then select OK.

    iTunes with the Consolidate Files command highlighted
  3. iTunes scans the entire hard drive to find the files it's missing. It makes copies of these files and then moves those copies to the correct location in the iTunes Music folder.

    This process makes two copies of every song, taking up twice the disk space. If you don't want duplicates of songs, delete the old files from their original locations.

  4. Select a song in iTunes to play it. The exclamation point should be gone.

How to Fix the Error for Multiple Missing Music Files (External Hard Drive)

If you run your entire iTunes Library from an external hard drive, the link between the songs and iTunes can be lost from time to time, especially after the hard drive has been unplugged. To re-establish the link between iTunes and your library, complete the following steps:

  1. Select iTunes (Mac) or Edit (Windows), and then select Preferences.

    iTunes with the Preferences menu option highlighted
  2. In General Preferences, select the Advanced tab.

    iTunes preferences with the Advanced tab highlighted
  3. In Advanced Preferences, go to the iTunes Media folder location section, then select Change.

    iTunes Advanced preferences with the Change button highlighted
  4. In Change iTunes Media Folder Location, browse to and select the iTunes Media folder on the external hard drive, and then select Select Folder.

    The Select Folder button
  5. In Advanced Preferences, select OK.

    The OK button
  6. iTunes will now know where to find your files, and you should be able to listen to your music again.

How to Prevent the Error From Happening Again

To prevent the error from occurring in the future, complete the following steps:

  1. Select iTunes (Mac) or Edit (Windows), and then select Preferences.

    iTunes with the Preferences menu option highlighted
  2. In General Preferences, select the Advanced tab.

    iTunes preferences with the Advanced tab highlighted
  3. In Advanced Preferences, select the Keep iTunes Media folder organized check box, and then select OK.

    iTunes Advanced Settings with the "Keep iTunes Media folder organized" option highighted
  4. Now, every time you add a new song to iTunes, it's automatically added to the correct place in your iTunes Music folder, no matter where the file was located previously. 

    This method doesn't fix songs that currently have the "original file could not be found" error, but it should prevent this error in the future.